Go back

‘Prolonged shift’ to remote use of EU infrastructures expected

Image: Nataliia Budianska, Shutterstock

Half of surveyed facilities had paused operations, and others were working with a skeleton crew

Many research infrastructures in Europe have either shut down or shifted to remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic, a survey has found, with others expected to shift even as governments begin to ease restrictions on people’s movement and activities.

Covid-19 has “strongly impacted” infrastructures, representatives of the Association of European-Level Research Infrastructures Facilities—a non-profit that promotes cooperation between such facilities—said in a report of the survey results it published on 6 May.

Jana Kolar, Andrew Harrison and Florian Gliksohn, all heads or senior staff at major European research infrastructures, reported that all of the infrastructures that responded are now reopening or planning to do so. But they warned that the pandemic “will likely require a prolonged and widespread provision of remote access” as “the crisis is likely to last for months”.

Eighteen of the 28 infrastructures open to international users that responded to the survey—mainly synchrotrons, neutron sources and lasers—reported that they shut down their operations entirely during the pandemic.

Four of those had since reopened at least partially when they responded, but only ten of the 14 infrastructures offering at least a partial service were open to external researchers, and only six for work not related to Covid-19. Twelve were offering use of fewer instruments or were being supported by fewer staff.

Another “marked change” reported was “a strong shift towards remote services for external users”, which allows samples to be mailed in. “Several” infrastructures were reported to be “working on expanding their offer of remote access, limited so far to specific instruments such as macromolecular crystallography beamlines at synchrotrons, by extending it to other instrumental set-ups”.

Given the foreseen prolonged requirement for such remote access, the authors proposed that infrastructures should “as a priority, introduce remote services wherever possible”.

In addition, “many” instruments should be modified so they can be run by fewer staff, the authors recommended, although more staff will be needed in other areas to support remote use. Experiments conducted remotely will require more time, the authors said, meaning that efficiencies will need to be found.

Extra safety and hygiene measures will also need to be put in place, along with measures to support home working.

The authors warned that any limitations on infrastructure use during the pandemic could have “detrimental effects on the ability…to contribute effectively to the development of solutions to other pressing societal challenges, such as climate change or cancer”.

This article was corrected on 13 May to change the date of publication of the report.